Etsy Creates Entrepreneurship Program To Help Low-Income Sellers

The online marketplace Etsy is an ideal venue for sellers of handmade crafts, vintage items, and supplies. With more than 30 million members and 1 million active shops, Etsy sellers sold more than $1 billion in total transactions by the end of 2013.

Now Etsy is offering a Craft Entrepreneurship Program, which is a free course that will teach artists, craftsman and designers how to sell their wares on the site and turn their handiwork into profitable microbusinesses. The pilot program kicked off in Rockford, Illinois and then New York City, targeting low-income artisans–those earning $52,793 or less. Brooklyn-based Etsy developed the curriculum in partnership with the city and found successful Etsy sellers to teach the classes.

Etsy recently announced it is working with partners in Newark, New Jersey; Watsonville, California; and Dallas, Texas, to offer its Craft Entrepreneurship classes to artisans in each of these cities and guide them in turning their craft skills into supplemental income. Etsy’s partner organizations–including the Brick City Development Corporation in Newark– market the classes through their networks and host them in their spaces, while Etsy provides the curriculum. Each course includes five workshops, taught over two weeks, covering things like search engine optimization, photography and product pricing, all elements essential to launching an online store.

“We’re in a new era, where business is expected to play more of a social role. [Etsy is] being active in our communities in a way that makes a real impact and takes that into account,” Etsy CEO Chad Dickerson told Fast Company. “It’s really the cooperation of government and business in a new way that can drive things forward.”

Etsy sellers pay 20 cents for every item listed and 3.5% of each sale made in exchange for a unique Web address to house their virtual marketplace. Etsy sellers are mostly using the site to supplement their incomes. They are unlikely to start businesses that employee other people. In fact, they’re unlikely in the short term to even make enough money to fully support themselves.

In an Etsy commissioned survey of the craft site’s sellers, only 18% said they thought of their shops as full-time jobs. But 36% said they used the money to cover household expenses and 20% said they used it to contribute to savings. For many Etsy sellers their shops are sideline businesses.

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